European cities and regions ask for more resources and competencies to receive refugees
DIPLOCAT – At the occasion of an international Forum held in Barcelona yesterday, organised by the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia and the Barcelona City Council
Several Mayors and representatives of European regions raised their voices yesterday in Barcelona to claim more resources and competencies for the management of the refugee crisis. The Deputy Mayor of Paris, Dominique Versini, underlined for example that at the moment of being confronted with such a complex phenomenon, there is often more complicity between the citizens than between the institutions above them, including the state level. Similar messages could be heard from the representatives of regions such as Attica (Greece) and Sicily (Italy), the Mayors or Deputy Mayors of Thessaloniki, (Greece), A Coruña, Madrid and Cadiz (Spain), Wadowice and Gdansk (Poland) and Stuttgart, Cologne and Leipzig (Germany).
This often desperate outcry was revealed in the International Forum on Reception and Integration of Refugees in the European Union, which took place yesterday in the modernist building of Sant Pau in Barcelona, organised by the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (DIPLOCAT) and Barcelona City Council. At the inauguration, the President of the Government of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, referred to the current crisis as “the most serious humanitarian crisis since WWII”, and said that we have to go to the root of the problem, while working for the development and stability of the southern Mediterranean. He also said that Europe needs “a common policy on asylum” and recalled that Catalonia is a country that has known exile and is therefore morally obliged to offer answers, despite the reluctance of the Spanish government.
Shameful, immoral and unjustifiable
The Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, chose strong words to describe the attitude of the Spanish government, which she considered “shameful, immoral and unjustifiable.” She also accused it of not fulfilling its own commitment, having received only 18 of the 17.000 refugees it had agreed to receive. Colau reiterated Barcelona’s offer to receive refugees and underlined the good relations with the Government of Catalonia for cooperation on this issue. According to Colau, if Europe considers the current crisis only as a problem and not as an opportunity to assume, it is failing its own founding objectives to prevent the repetition of the “dehumanisation” of World War II.
Albert Royo, Secretary General of DIPLOCAT, also took the floor at the inauguration, to explain that the Forum has the dual purpose of analysing how the states and the EU are responding to the crisis and to also analyse public integration policies. With the organisation of conferences like this one, Catalonia shows, according to Royo, that “it is a serious and responsible actor, committed to a more just and democratic world”. Finally, the Spanish spokesperson for UNHCR, Maria Jesús Vega, regretted that the Mediterranean Sea is today “the most lethal frontier”, and that with the figure of 60 million displaced persons “the highest figure ever recorded” has been reached.
More than 40 speakers
The Forum brought together more than 40 politicians and experts from eleven European countries and the United States. In the speeches and debates, issues such as the role of the EU, the danger of xenophobia, the need for safe ways for the exiled, the slowness of asylum procedures and the different challenges and problems of the various reception and integration policies were dealt with. The two afternoon sessions were also the opportunity for presenting of several good practice examples and specific projects for integration in the medium and long term.
In the closing session, the Deputy Mayor of Barcelona City Council, Gerardo Pisarello, spoke in terms of “crisis of civilization” rather than refugee crisis and considered that “while the existing power relations and social and economic policies are not modified, we will not solve the problem.” The last one to take the floor was Minister of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relations and Transparency of the Government of Catalonia, Raül Romeva, who announced the intention to draft a resolution that could summarise the spirit of the Forum and thanked for the offer of the German city of Stuttgart to consider the option to organise a second edition soon. Romeva also noted that neither states nor the EU “have not lived up to expectations, have failed from the political and administrative point of view” and that now is the “time to build and add and correct the erroneous actions.”
Picture: Royo, Puigdemont, Colau and Vega during the opening ceremony (by Albert Salamé)